Steven Gerrard had no sympathy for Bukayo Saka’s complaints about persistent fouling, suggesting the 20-year-old toughens up.
Arsenal’s improvement this season has been visible for everyone to see, and much of the credit goes to the manager and the players for performing at the highest levels. Since December, the Gunners have dropped points only in three games.
During that period, one of the standout performers has been Bukayo Saka, who starred again on Saturday, scoring the only goal as Arsenal beat Aston Villa away from home. The win let Mikel Arteta’s men keep hold of the fourth spot heading into the international break, leading fifth-placed Tottenham by three points, with a game in hand.
There have been many talking points to ponder in the aftermath of the victory over Villa. First, Ashley Young stirred the celebration pot once more, suggesting Arsenal players behaved as if they won the league. Then it was the reaction to Saka’s post-match comments, urging referees to protect him from persistent fouling.
Saka said, “I wasn’t complaining to the ref but I just wanted to let him know that that’s my game, running at players with pace, and sometimes I need a bit more protection when players are purposefully trying to kick me.”
Steven Gerrard has warned Bukayo Saka he needs to toughen up after the Arsenal winger asked for more protection during the Gunners' victory over Aston Villa.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) March 21, 2022
The 20-year-old was fouled plenty of times, and on one occasion, Tyrone Mings made a studs-up challenge, which left Saka on the floor clutching his ankles. While the defender was only shown a yellow for the dangerous looking tackle, many had called for stricter referring decisions on such incidents.
However, in the aftermath of Saka’s comments, Villa boss Steven Gerrard took time to comment on the issue, asking Saka to toughen up. In his reaction to the 20-year-old’s comments, Gerrard told Sky Sports how he has faced multiple challenges in the past and urged the Arsenal star to learn from the issues as the former Rangers’ boss offered no sympathies.
Gerrard said, “It’s part of the game. The last time I checked, it’s not a no-contact sport. I think tackles are allowed; physicality’s allowed. He’s a good player, he’s an outstanding talent, and I love him. But he can’t complain about that side. That’s football.”
“I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips, I’ve had about 16 operations, I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment. That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick.”
Gerrard’s words do ring true, but incidentally, he has asked for protection for players previously, back when he was the Rangers manager. We have seen how little protection can hamper players and their careers, with Eden Hazard the paramount example of the same. So, maybe something ought to be done soon.